I am compelled to share my mental health journey in the hopes of opening the eyes of those who have no idea what struggling with depression or anxiety is like, or maybe to help someone who is in a hole that they can’t get out of.
I have been an anxious person my whole life. It manifests in all sorts of ways, from stomach aches as a child, procrastination tendencies as a teen and adult and not sticking with things like hobbies or activities that I start at any age. Not because of my family, not because I don’t practice religion, but because of the way that my genes and hormones don’t play well together. Various stressors and traumatic events as I live life don’t help. (2013 and 2020 – could have done without those years!)
I have suffered through depression. Not just sad for no reason depression, but can’t function, can’t do what you know would make you feel better depression. Stuck in your thoughts depression. Can’t wash your face and brush your teeth depression.
Through most of this, I would appear “normal” on the outside. I go to work, go to meetings, smile, laugh, joke – appear functional and happy. But it is exhausting. Physically and mentally challenging to keep up with the fast pace of work and obligations and all the other tasks of a working mom. Luckily, I have some very supportive people in my life to help out when I need it, but sometimes even their help isn’t enough to lighten the load.
I see lists online of how to avoid depression: Take walks! Meditate! Drink water! Sunlight! Vitamins! Eat whole foods! Exercise! Shower!... Well intended lists made and shared by people who don’t seem to have spent time in their own darkness. Have you ever had a headache and know with 100% certainty that if you just get up, get ibuprofen and drink some water that your headache would go away, but you can’t make yourself do that thing that would make you feel better? Because that’s depression and anxiety (for me). So, if I can’t even take the medicine that will cure my blinding headache, I really can’t find the clothes and shoes to workout. Or decide which vitamins to buy. Or work on the project that is actually super easy and would feel good to get off my plate.
Then there are the “magic pills” that are supposed to make it all better. The ones we tell ourselves we don’t need because it’s not that bad. The ones that a regular family physician knows very little about. The ones that you really have to research yourself and go into the doctor armed with information for a prescription. Once you’ve realized that you can’t do it alone, you call and make the appointment (or schedule online, thank goodness for e-charts), and do some on-line searching for what pill might work for you without causing insane weight gain. You sob at your doctor’s office because you just aren’t yourself. The doctor sees your pain, and she gives you a script and a hug and tells you to follow up in six months, since it takes a while for these things to start working. You pick the bottle up from the pharmacy. You take the magic pill for weeks, only to find that after the amount of time that it is supposed to work, it is not working. You have side effects. So, you get another pill to cover the parts that the first pill isn’t getting to and to stop the side effects. You get a little bit better, but you really hoped you’d feel like yourself again. When was the last time you felt yourself? This feels pretty close. You go on a trip, you forget your meds. That’s ok, you can start again when you get home. But you forget – or not – because you feel pretty good and maybe just needed a vacation and they weren’t really all that helpful anyway. A month later, you’re back to not being able to garner whatever it is that makes you care for yourself enough to wash your face and brush your teeth at night.
That was my winding path for years – until this year. I discovered that not all meds work with all people, and there is some genetic component tied in. After years of searching and trial and error, I learned from the most amazing therapist that there is a gene test (GeneSite) that will help you and your doctor find a good prescription fit. To say that this has changed my life is an understatement.
Which leads to another conversation – do you know how difficult it is to find a therapist? It’s harder than finding a life partner. Therapists are people, with personalities and different specialties and communication styles. Some accept insurance, some don’t, some make you pay up front and turn it in to insurance on your own (like you have the bandwidth for that). I’ve been through six in the last 10 years before finally finding Sara, who is like talking to the most well informed, kind, non-judgmental friend you could have, but instead of just validating my bad feelings (she does) she also offers tools to help and digs into my current load or past trauma to work out why I am struggling.
I’m not an expert. I don’t have all or any of the answers. This is just where I am and how I got here. If you’ve ever thought, ‘How do I help a friend who I think is struggling?’ First of all, if they ever mention a struggle, don’t minimize it. If they feel like they can open up a little, they are BEGGING for help. Second, whether they are open or not, try to get them to do something with you. Coffee, dinner, a walk… you know them. If they aren’t receptive, keep trying. It’s hard to be rejected, but it’s worse to lose a friend. Struggling can look like withdrawing, being extra grumpy, sad, or other changes. Reaching out doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be just as simple as showing up with a hug.
If you’re struggling and don’t know what to do, I hope knowing that you aren’t alone makes you feel, well, less alone. Reaching out isn’t easy, but there are others out there going through it, too and people to help.